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Black History Month: Life in 1950s Ealing

Black History Month: Life in 1950s Ealing

October 1, 2020
Jamaican men in London 1950s

October is national Black History Month. The borough has a proud tradition of diversity and people from many backgrounds have settled here. In the 1950s the black community was, however, not particularly large. In 1958 the local newspaper for Ealing, The Middlesex County Times, ran an interview with one of the relatively few black people living in the borough at the time. Borough archivist Dr Jonathan Oates looked at what it reported.

The interviewee was Eric Oliver Morrison, living at 35 Broughton Road, ‘a modest quiet man’. He had arrived in Ealing in 1956, but may have been in Britain since 1946, arriving as a 23-year-old, after a justice of the peace in Jamaica tried to dissuade him. “At first I never thought of going to England,” he said. He said his reasoning for changing his mind on that idea was that working conditions were not so good in Jamaica. The journey had taken him two weeks and cost him about £100 (more than two month’s wages). He was currently working shift work in a factory in Alperton but found the time to study for five O-levels – because he intended to take a law degree thereafter.

He was a regular church goer and was engaged to a Miss Elsie Drummond of 24 Albany Road, though originally from Kingston in Jamaica herself.

The two were to get married, at St John’s Church in West Ealing. They planned to have the reception in a private house as per the custom in Jamaica because many more would go to the party at the reception than to the church service.

Mr Morrison had a strong work ethic, remarking: “We Jamaicans do not like applying for National Assistance. We want to stand on our own two feet and pay our way and give good value for our money.”

And he liked to look sharp: “We Jamaicans love to dress. Oh yes, we just love that.”

He was asked about what, later, would be termed race relations, and said: “Everywhere I go I find the people hospitable and kind. Some of my friends have talk of snobbery being meted out to them, but I have not encountered any of this.”

He noted that there were no Jamaican organisations in Ealing but there was a West Indian steel band in Acton. He could not buy much of the food he wanted locally, either, having to go to Shepherds Bush market to buy yams, bread fruit and sweet potatoes.

However, Mr Morrison liked his new home. He said: “I just love Ealing. Ealing people are so hospitable. Of all the places I have visited in London, I prefer Ealing and my friends who have visited me from other parts [also] like Ealing. There is, how can I put it, an academic air about the place.”

Naturally, what he missed most about Jamaica was the warmer weather – and perhaps that was one of the things that were to pull the Morrisons back to Jamaica some years later. He said: “The weather in Jamaica it is always fine. The sun is always shining. Even when it rains it is hot.”